Which member states pay for wasteful farm income support?

So, is examination of member states’ financial net contributions a shameful exercise: hiking up national egoism and ignoring the larger benefits of European integration? Not at all. If CAP funds were spent exclusively on European public goods, such as climate change mitigation or the protection of endangered species, national bottom lines would indeed not matter. The money should be allocated wherever greenhouse gas reductions can be achieved most cheaply or where the need for wildlife protection is the greatest.

But as things stand, CAP subsidies are mostly free handouts to member states and their farming communities – they do not create commensurate value for European citizens. This applies in particular to the Single Farm Payment which farmers receive as long as they keep their land in ‘good agricultural and environmental condition’. These minimum conditions largely correspond to the legal baseline – that is, all farmers need to do is to respect the law.

Making those who pay for this waste aware of their unfavorable position actually serves European integration. The CAP absorbs more than 40% of the EU budget, depriving the EU of the renewed momentum it could gain if it became more relevant for attaining the priorities of the future. Citizens are ready to support an EU that creates real value added – by tackling climate change, promoting European infrastructure, or enhancing internal and external security. They are never going to endorse an EU that lavishes money on one politically powerful sector to the detriment of the entire economy.

The distributional issue behind CAP reform will become ever more critical over the next years. Public debts will continue to rise and painful spending cuts will make the population more sensitive to wasteful expenditures. Also, the strain on financial solidarity in the EU provoked by the debt/Euro crisis will spur interest in the transfer mechanisms hidden in the EU budget.

So who is cutting the best deal in the CAP? And who has pulled the short straw? A short paper of mine can be downloaded here. The paper focuses on member states’ receipts of direct income support under the first pillar, which total €42 billion. These are compared with member states’ contributions to financing the direct income support. The national contributions are comprised of the contributions based on value added taxes (VAT) and gross national income (GNI), corrected for the UK rebate and other exceptions.

The most important net contributor to direct income support in 2010 is Germany with €2.44 billion, followed by Italy with a negative net balance of €1.6 billion. Other important net contributors are the Netherlands, Belgium and the United Kingdom.

The biggest beneficiaries, each gaining more than €1 billion, are Greece, Poland and Spain, followed by France, Ireland and Hungary. All these countries defend a large CAP budget and a strong first pillar. Irrespective of their public justification, the money their farmers receive from other member states’ taxpayers certainly plays a role in their love for the old-style CAP.

The net balance for all major net payers will further deteriorate in the coming years. In 2013, Germany will make a net contribution of roughly €3 billion, followed by Italy with €1.9 billion, the Netherlands with €900 million and Belgium with €800 million. The strongest deteriorations in the net balance affect Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Belgium. France sees its net gains shrink from €868 million in 2010 to less than half in 2013.

Is it advisable for the EU-12 to push for a strong first pillar with much direct income support? Clearly, the EU-12 will be much better off by shifting the money from the CAP to the EU’s cohesion funds. EU-12 member states receive a share of every € spent that is three times higher for cohesion funds than for direct income support under the CAP. The ratio for Estonia is 5, for the Czech Republic, Latvia and Romania 4 or higher, and for Poland and Slowenia above 3.

You can download the entire paper here.

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